Midway Atoll, the Albatross and Waste Plastic

On the 14th of January I wrote about Hayley Shephard’s solo kayaking trip around South Georgia. She is taking on this adventure to raise awareness of the plight of the Albatross. An enormous threat to this magnificent sea bird is due to long-line fishing practices. Fortunately, simple changes can be implemented which dramatically reduce Albatross fatalities. The RSPB and BirdLife International are working with the international fishing industry to bring about these changes, such as the use of the Hookpod. This is taking time but the results so far are encouraging.

Camping, Walking and Climbing on Midway Atoll

Almost straying off topic from camping, walking and climbing, but keeping on the subject of the Albatross, I accidentally discovered a photo through a Google image search. The photo was taken on the remote Pacific Ocean of Midway Atoll.

Midway Atoll, also known as the Midway Islands, are located approximately 1450 miles to the north west of Honolulu, Hawaii. (See Google Map below.) Until 1993 The Midway Atoll was home to a United States Naval Facility. It has since become the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, operated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It is possible to visit Midway Atoll providing that you obtain a permit. However the three islands that make up Midway Atoll are tiny, flat as a pancake and covered with nesting birds. So there are no opportunities for climbing, walking or camping. As I said, this post almost strays off topic – but not quite!

The Albatross and Plastic Waste

There are 18 species of seabirds including the Short-Tailed Albatross, Black-Footed Albatross and the Laysan Albatross. There is a large coral reef and marine life is plentiful, with Monk Seals, Green Sea Turtles and Spinner Dolphins swimming in the Pacific lagoon.

With its highest point at only 13 m above sea-level, rising sea levels are going to be a threat to the Midway Atoll nature reserve over the course of this century. However, as can be seen from this photo, there is another immediate threat to the sea birds: waste plastic.

Dead albatross with stomach full of plastic items.
This Albatross has died as a result of eating plastic. Source: Chris Jordan http://www.chrisjordan.com

The nesting babies are fed bellies-full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting what looks to them like food to bring back to their young. On this diet of human trash, every year tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity, and choking. Chris Jordan.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

You might well wonder where all of this plastic has come from, given that Midway Atoll is located in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean. The answer is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Bottle tops and other plastic litter dropped into the sea and rivers, or blown by the wind from our streets end up in the ocean. Vast amounts of small plastic items, degraded plastic and other debris float just underneath the ocean surface. They are trapped in an ocean gyre, which is an enormous circulating current that swirls around, in this case, in the whole of the north Pacific Ocean. The problem of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is being investigated by Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX) which is…

Seeking the Science of the Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch.

Seaplex want to find out how much plastic is out there, how it is accumulating and distributed, as well as the effect that it is having on marine life. Hopefully from the information that they obtain it will be possible to formulate an effective method of collecting and removing the plastic rubbish. The solution will not be easy because, for example, using fishing nets is not possible since the plastic pieces are so small that they would just pass through the net.

Plastic Waste in the Atlantic

Not just the Pacific…for the past 20 years the Sea Education Association have been studying an accumulation of plastic debris in the North Atlantic Ocean. Whilst the existence of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is relatively well known about, plastic rubbish in the Atlantic Ocean has generally been overlooked.

Once a collection system is devised, it would be great if all the plastic could recycled. Perhaps it could be made into recycled fleeces and tents.

Lead Poisoning and Droopwing

In addition to death caused by eating waste plastic, 10,000 Laysan albatross chicks die each year from lead poisoning due to toxic, lead-based paint that was used on the Midway Atoll Naval Base. The chicks are unable to hold up their wings, which drag on the ground and become vulnerable to open sores and fractures. This form of nervous-system damage is called “droopwing.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have spent $1.5 million since 2005 to clean up 24 of 95 buildings that contain lead-based paint.


2 thoughts on “Midway Atoll, the Albatross and Waste Plastic

  1. In order to highlight the problem of plastic waste in our oceans, Chris Jordan has re-created the “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” using 2.4 million pieces of plastic. This number is significant, since it is the number of pounds of plastic estimated to enter the world’s ocean’s every hour.


  2. In order to highlight the problem of plastic waste in our oceans, Chris Jordan has re-created the “The Great Wave off Kanagawa
    using 2.4 million pieces of plastic. This number is significant, since
    it is the number of pounds of plastic estimated to enter the world’s
    ocean’s every hour.


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